Probably the best academic treatment of why modern foods play a role in diseases of civilization.
Confit, which involves cooking meat in large amounts of fat and is delicious and a great way to get more fat in your diet. As a bonus any meat that is made into confit lasts longer. Duck confit is the most well known confit, but you can cook nearly any meat this way. The most recent issue of the Weston A. Price journal mentions how the real old fashioned Mediterranean diet included lamb cooked in its own fat and salt, which they stored and ate through the winter.
I first had chicken confit at Lot2 in Brooklyn. Since I have SOOO much lard from the NYC Paleo Meetup Meatshare and my CSA share from The Piggery, I decided to try it myself. Unfortunately, I made a HUGE mistake....
I only made two chicken thighs. You really do need more, it's so delicious and fairly easy. Furthermore, it has the luscious taste of a good fried chicken without the mess or the breading.
For this confit I used
- Lard from The Piggery
- Chicken thighs
- Salt, garlic, and pepper
Yeah, it's that simple. To prepare the chicken for confit, I put a little bit of the salt, garlic, and pepper on the skin and wrapped it up and placed it under a heavy dish, skin side down, in the fridge. A few hours later I took it out. I made it a little bed in my crockpot with squares of the unmelted lard to slow down the cooking a little since my crockpot gets a little hot. At 11:30, when I went to bed (I know, bad), I put the chicken skin side down on the lard bed and turned the crock pot on low. When I got up at 7 my whole kitchen smelled of warm fried chicken.
For the finished touch, I put in in my toaster oven on broil to crisp the skin. I wanted to save it for dinner, but I couldn't resist. I ate one thigh for breakfast. Between the crispy golden skin and the silky smooth fatty flesh, I was in heaven. It was like fried chicken...except it wasn't just the skin that was delicious! The whole thigh was amazing, even the little ends of cartilage on the bone, which had melted and then been crisped into a pork rind-like treat. There was excess fat left over, so I'll poach some root veggies in that when I eat the second thigh.
I'm normally not a huge fan of chicken...I LOVE the skin, but the flesh bores me to death. This solved that problem and the lard surplus too!
When I was a child I went to "marine biology" camp at a marine animal theme park. I remember being very enthusiastic about working with dolphins and seals. That enthusiasm was promptly crushed when I got to see the tiny concrete cages where they spent most of their lives. The were painted that garnish teal color that swimming pools tend to be painted and reeked of disinfectants. They fed them the cheapest rancid throw-away fish, a world away from their rich and diverse diets in the wild.
I thought about that when I heard about the killer whale at Sea World that drowned a trainer. Killer whales in captivity live in environments completely inappropriate for their species' evolutionary heritage. At least most zoos try to make things like in the wild, but marine parks are all about concrete. Instead of eating seals and salmon, they eat whatever fish is cheapest on the market. Instead of living in pods, they are sometimes kept alone. Of course they suffer from reduced lifespan and bizarre pathologies like dorsal fin collapse.
Author Erich Hoyt said:
As I reported in The Performing Orca and also in some detail in Orca: The Whale Called Killer, trainers have noted that orcas start to get bored and go a bit crazy after a few years in captivity. You must imagine a highly intelligent social mammal and a big predator normally traveling 100 kms or more a day, then taken from its family, stripped of its ability to socialize normally, to hunt and to travel. What it has left is its relationship to the trainer, but how long can that really keep them interested?
Substitute a few words and that could be about Homo Sapiens. It's interesting that despite the immense power and predatory nature of killer whales, they don't prey on us in the wild. They have even been known to cooperate with humans in the hunt. The killer whales of Eden that were documented to cooperate with humans might be the tip of the iceberg in that relationship, as it might have been present in other cultures and died out before it was documented. Perhaps killer whales recognize us as kin: high intelligent seafaring top level predators.
Some of you might think "Why is a woman who has eaten whale talking about this?" Hunting is part of our evolutionary heritage and benefits us physically and emotionally. Keeping animals in concrete tanks is not. We can and should provide evolutionarily appropriate environments for both animals and humans. It benefits the health of all involved.
If Sea World provided larger more natural tanks for its animals and a diet of penguins, seals, shark livers, whale tongues, and other nutritious traditional orca foods...I might go there, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.
The gate of knowledge is closed!
Oh how ungrateful I was back then when I was enrolled in a big university. I didn't realize how annoying it would be to not have access to a large academic library. Sciencedirect now asks me to pay five gazillion dollars for the studies I want to read. It almost makes me want to enroll in school again.
I live in freaking NYC, but the library here doesn't have the richness of that library in the middle of Illinois.
When I did have access to the wonderful online research databases, I remember seeing that some misguided nutritionists and anthropologists cited papers by S. Boyd Eaton when they tried to say the paleolithic diet was plant-based and low-fat. So it's nice to see Eaton himself in this recent article about the paleolithic diet in Macleans eat his hat:
He says he had failed to consider the contribution of non-muscle meat like brain and fat depots, and thus underestimated the amount of fat we need. “It makes me feel stupid!”
Oops. Also on display is tehstupid
Konnor still thinks that was the right call, and believes his original concerns about fat were prudent. “You can’t just go to the supermarket and buy meat loaded with fat and say you’re doing the Paleolithic diet. You’re not.”
Ugh, such an annoying misconception perpetuated by restaurants that serve miserable cuts of miserable game for miserable prices. Yeah, that wild boar tenderloin roast at terrible overpriced restaurant is lean because the company that sold it is feeding the public's desire for "lean" healthy game. Any real hunter can tell that that game varies in fat content by species and season. Some game is very very fatty! And the cuts served at Green Meadows Fancy Golf Course Grill, typically lean cuts, are not representative of the real richness of game. This Hazda article speaks more to traditional consumption
Bones are smashed with rocks and the marrow sucked out. Grease is rubbed on the skin as a sort of moisturizer. No one speaks a word, but the smacking of lips and gnashing of teeth is almost comically loud.
Speaking of bones, I just finished reading the excellent cookbook Bones, by Jennifer McLagan. A full post on this excellent book is due, as bones are absolutely essential for a successful paleo diet, providing ample amounts of fat, calcium, and other important nutrients.
Also, what's the deal with lacto paleo? I must say I'm not a fan of this trend or term. A paleo diet with dairy is not a paleo diet, it's a nomadic pastoralist diet. Such pastoralists are pretty healthy, but they are not representative of stone agers. There is absolutely no convincing evidence that dairy is paleo. That doesn't mean it's bad, but it does lead to some dilution of the paleo terminology.
Also annoying is this NY Times article about some who argue that depression is somehow an evolutionary adaptation. In my opinion it's like arguing that heart disease is an evolutionary adaptation. I think it's fairly clear that depression is a disease of civilization caused by living inappropriately to our evolutionary heritage whether it's working inside all day staring at a glowing rectangle or not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately this viewpoint is not in the article. The opposing view is that it's a hopeless disorder that can only be treated with modern drugs.
I thought about that when reading the graphic novel bio of logician Bertrand Russell. He is devastated by the schizophrenia that seems to be an inevitable part of his bloodline. But there is increasing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids play a role. That this type of research is being done in the age of drug fixes is very hopeful and I would bet that scientists will eventually find even more nutritional factors that govern mental illness.
With most big proponents of the paleo diet being male and the general taboo against this subject, it's not surprising that menstruation and the paleo diet is little discussed. That's a shame, because the beneficial effects of the paleo diet on menstruation is one of the main reasons I keep to the diet.
In most of the modern world, getting your period is a pain. It can last as long as a week and be accompanied by all manners of maladies ranging from irritability to stomach upset. Young women are getting their period earlier and earlier, at the ages of 11 and 12. This has been tied to disease later in life.
It's hard to know what menstruation was like in the paleolithic, but the modern hunter-gatherers studied provide some insight. Foragers, and most women in the rest of the world, get their period around 16. That makes sense because if women started earlier it might make for risky pregnancies. In Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, menstruation is described as a "thing of no account." It's the conventional narrative that menstruation would have been rare for hunter-gatherers, but this is not true. It would have been less because of breast feeding and pregnancy, but still part of the female experience.
This excellent article about that myth talks about how sometimes !Kung women will have periods but will have not released an egg. It also talks about the myth that exercise causes amenorrhea
I learned, by studying runners, what is true for all women - ovulation and menstruation are not the same. Regular periods can and do occur with no ovulation or with disturbed ovulation[8,13,14]. However, like most doctors (and consequently, ordinary women), Is Menstruation Obsolete? implies that periods mean ovulation. It also infers that amenorrhea is (just) anovulation. In fact, amenorrhea means both estrogen and progesterone levels are low-a situation that always causes fast bone loss and the risk for osteoporosis.
She contrasts low fertility caused by living an active and natural life, with the Western illness of amenorrhea, which seems to be unrelated to those things.
My own experience is that prior to starting the paleo diet, I had very heavy periods lasting as long as a week and accompanied by irritability, stomach sickness, and headaches. After I had been on the paleo diet for awhile, my periods became shorter, lighter, and easier. The times I have gone off the paleo diet and had bad periods again have been a huge incentive to stick with the diet.
Why are my periods so much better now? Well, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 has been linked to PMS. The reduction in body fat also probably decreased the length of my period.
The problems with modern periods can be linked to various modern habits from contraceptive pills to environmental toxins to delayed childbirth. However, it's clear that appropriate nutrition plays a role.
Some women have reported amenorrhea on the paleo diet. The causes of amenorrhea seem to be varied and some are serious, so a visit to a doctor might be in order.
A while back I read an article mentioning a book called Prehistoric Cookery. It had some interesting ideas, so I bought the book.
Unfortunately the book is really a tiny little coffee table book. I was hoping for something more substantial, but it did get me thinking about ancient mesolithic and iron age diets of the Celts.
Scotland and Ireland are disproportionately affected by alcoholism, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and celiac disease. For some time there was a theory that this was because Celts are descended from a "Celtic Fringe" of more recent hunter-gatherers similar to the Finnish and Sami fringe further north. Recently, that theory was seriously questioned by genetic research that showed that Celts are most likely descendants of Middle Eastern neolithic farmers, mixed with perhaps some local hunter-gatherer stock.
It's really quite amazing how ignorant even scientific professionals are about the history of food, such as Colin T. Campbell or the professor in the article about Prehistoric Cookery, Brian Radcliffe, who claims
“The main lesson is that as humans we need a huge variety of food from a range of different sources and food groups, ” he says. “We can see from early man’s experience that it is not good enough to rely upon single sources and single groups of foods because they did not give them the nutrients they needed.
Ugh. First of all, he obviously hasn't read the book he is commenting on, which clearly shows the wide variety of foods consumed by the Celts ranging from fish roe to nettles to berries. Also, he doesn't seem to know about the many groups of indigenous peoples who rely on flesh and are healthy.
The author of Prehistoric Cookery makes some of the same mistakes, saying that "like studied hunter-gatherers" the diet of ancient Celts would have been 80% plants, which is NOT true. Hunter-gathers studied get most of their calories from meat. Isotope studies indicate that the Celtic diet in the Iron Age was very high in meat.
Mesolithic Celts seem to have eaten deer and wild boar. Their remains are typically on the shoreline, where they left shell middens and probably ate seaweed, roe, and whole fish. Early grains cultivated were mainly oats. Barley and early forms of wheat swept in later, but oats remained very important. Perhaps that is why their teeth in the Medieval period were better than the more wheat-centric English.
Weston A. Price visited the Isle of Lewis in Scotland and found that the natives were remarkably healthy and had beautiful teeth despite their "limited" diet. A diet of fish and oats might seem limited to us, but they ate parts of the fish that we typically don't:
An important and highly relished article of diet has been baked cod's head stuffed with chopped cod's liver and oatmeal.
I do think it's important to note that the oat eaters of the mesolithic were just not as healthy as their hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their bones were smaller and less sturdy. Traditional agrarian diets aren't bad, but I still don't believe they are optimal.
Here are some foods that I would definitely like to eat more of from Prehistoric Cookery include:
- Laver, a type of seaweed prized by the Welsh. We might think of Seaweed as an exotic Asian food, but people from all over the world have been harvesting it for a long time.
- Fish stomachs and roe. At least roe is fairly tasty...can't say the same for fish stomachs, though they are much cheaper :)
- Marsh plants. Sea beans(Salicornia) are fairly tasty and can actually be found at some NYC Greenmarkets and Fairway when they are in season.
- Ox tails and marrow bones. I already eat marrow bones and they are wonderful and cheap fatty treat.
- Nettles and other wild herbs. I already gather these often and will post more about them in the Spring.
The traditional bread was nearly flat and rather tough. It's interesting because since breads persist in Scandinavia. A local NYC bakery does the real thing. The Celts also fermented their oats.
On the subject of Ireland, it's also good to note that of course the potato was introduced very late. It spurred population increases that ended up being disastrous when the potato famine hit. Before potatoes were introduced, the diet of the Irish probably resembled that of the Masai, as they also relied on their cattle herds for both dairy and meat.
Cattle blood, not potatoes for Cuchulainn
IGe tests aren't very accurate, apparently. But I wonder if the presence of "benign" antibodies is really so benign. Maybe it means that the gut permeability is too high. Either way, I probably wouldn't feed my children peanut butter. I love love love peanut butter and it's one of the non-paleo foods I truly miss, but peanut production is rife with mold problems from farm to fork and peanut butter is very high probably rancid PUFAS. I wonder if peanuts cause increased gut permeability that also leads to other allergies as inappropriate food constituents are allowed into the blood stream. Many people I know who are allergic to peanuts are allergic to otherwise harmless foods like shellfish. Of course I don't know that many people allergic to peanuts my age. Growing up, we didn't have special "peanut free" tables, but you'd be loathe to find a school without one these days. What things have changed? I ate crappy sugar-filled things growing up, but maybe it's because things are now full of gut-irritating white "whole" wheat.
Unfortuantely, I don't think these researchers are wondering about that. Their "happy ending":
The only way to determine whether Ellie was truly allergic was with a food challenge, which she finally passed last October. Ellie now enjoys kid-favorite peanut butter candy, crackers and granola bars. The family was able to ditch the epinephrine injections kept in case of emergency. Said Kampwerth, "It's a big relief."
Wow, what a relief that their child can enjoy sugar-loaded processed junk!
Mmm fatty fat flavored fatty fat
The earlier graphic was a pyramid, which many mistook for a dietary recommendation graph like the USDA's' idiotic food pyramid. I feel this graphic illustrates the philosophy behind my thoughts better. Plus it adds on a new concept, which is thinking about diet in terms of the human continuum. Just like the babies in The Continuum Concept biologically expect to be held, our bodies biologically expect certain food. When we consume things like soybean oil our bodies just don't function properly, just like babies that are never held as infants. Of course there is variance based on genetics, gut bacteria, etc, but overall animal fat is the nutrient that the human body seems to be evolved to eat.
Animal fat is the nutrient our bodies can handle most perfectly. We absorb it and utilize it in a way that fuels us without dragging us down. Contrast that with a dinner of just some chicken breast and some spinach. It's a meal that's "paleo", but unlike anything our ancient human would have encountered in a thriving environment. It takes energy to digest all that protein and fiber. Add a chicken thigh with a bunch of skin and things are looking a lot better in terms of actually fueling us.
Not on the human evolutionary continuum: too much omega-6, too much fructose, too many antinutrients, too few nutrients
Butter and ghee might get to jump the continuum...after all, they are very close to being like lard, tallow, and the other animal fats. But they have their detractors.
Another interesting thing about the analogy is that The Continuum Concept maintains that the consequences of not raising children the way humans evolved to be raised aren't just horrifying things like reactive attachment disorder, but annoying behaviors we very as normal in modern children. It's the same for not eating the way humans evolved to eat. Heart disease and diabetes are the tip of the iceberg. Health problems that probably aren't normal for humans include things we view as nuisances like acne, constipation, cold sores, and a whole host of other "small" things.
Then I often ask where, as a society, did we stray from that lifestyle of whole vegetables, tubers, grains, fruits and legumes because I am confident that evidence shows that we evolved using such foods, which comprised at least 95-98% of our diet. Before the 1850s, very few people ate animal based foods. The royalty did and their paintings and pictures and gout show it.
It's amazing...he's a doctor....doesn't he have access to Sciencedirect or any other scientific databases? There is ample and irrefutable evidence that humans have been eating meat and lots of it for a very very long time. Certainly he has access to Google Scholar. Hint: plug in "meat" + "human evolution" or "meat" + "isotope studies." If anything, Colin is a sad example of how increased specialization in science furthers ignorance. There is really no good excuse for a doctor to not draw on the vast wealth of anthropological research, especially if he is going to make claims like that.
The pharaohs, who suffered numerous health problems including gout and heart disease, were also big consumers of grain and alcohol.
Last year I read a certain book that extolled the virtues of fermented coconut water, but gave no instructions for making it. Instead, the author's website sold the drink and it wasn't cheap. I wanted to try it myself, so I went on Ebay and bought water kefir grains for about $6.
Now water kefir is kind of like dairy kefir, but it supposedly thrives in just sugar water rather than milk. The problem was that my grains never really thrived. There is a host of conflicting and bizarre information out there about how to treat them and somewhere along the way I did something wrong. I tried all kinds of different fancy sugars, spring water, artisan dried fruit....but they never reproduced. Whatever, I still got benefits from them even if they are pain to take care of. Since you don't ferment kefir as long as kombucha, cleaning and feeding them was a chore I had to do every other day. Maybe they were unhappy because I went on vacation and left them in the fridge....it's hard to find babysitters for tiny gelatinous bacterial and yeast colonies. However, I plan on buying more soon and hopefully I can figure it out, because I really enjoyed the drinks I made.
I suspect the reason that people buy expensive coconut water is that the way to make it is NOT to put your kefir grains in the coconut water. You should do a normal water kefir ferment that consists of sugar and lemon for a day or so. Then use that fermented water and mix it with coconut water or whatever juice you want in a nice bottle with a good stopper. A couple of days later you should have carbonated fermented coconut water. It's probiotic and has less sugar than normal coconut water. Ferments of other fruit juices are delicious too and water kefir is less harshly acidic than kombucha.
You've heard about this great thing called the paleo diet and you decide to try it. Lean meat, salads, fruit, some mixed nuts, some fasting...how hard can it be? Unfortunately, a few days later you are sick with hunger. You crave some delicious potato chips and give in. You end up back where you started. You decide the paleo diet is bunk.
Unfortunately, you never were on the paleo diet. You were on the faileo diet. It's unfortunate because certain people have been plugging this diet as THE paleo diet, when really, it's not.
WHAT? Why are leafy vegetables, lean meats and seeds in the middle? It's simple- they are a total waste of any true forager's time. Think about optimal foraging theory: how much time does it take to collect 500 calories of leaves, seeds, or lean meat? How easy are they to digest?
Well, it takes a freaking long time and any forager would say...why bother? (unless the particular leaf or seed has some prized medicinal quality). The amount of protein in lean meat is hard to digest. Inuits threw the lean meat to their dogs! Seeds and leaves aren't that easy to digest either. Humans, unlike many other apes, can't extract much energy from leaves.
Foragers spend their time looking for energy dense foods- coconut, yams, and of course...the king...ANIMAL FAT! It's easy to digest and has tons of calories. If you are in a scarce environment, calories are simply king. Eat enough calories should be the number one rule of the paleo diet. Foragers that didn't eat enough calories died. If you are utilizing intermittent fasting, doesn't forget to feast too! Also, when you are fasting you should NOT feel hungry. If you do, you probably aren't ready for IF and you need to nourish and heal your body to be ready. A doctor in NYC that uses the paleo diet to treat illness has his patients fast before a physical. How hungry they were is a good indicator of health. The practicing paleo dieters typically don't experience hunger at all.
Furthermore, how bad are those less-evolutionarily appropriate foods like butter? They probably aren't as good as pork belly, but plenty of agrarian cultures thrived on them. Don't fall into an obsessive purity trap- figure out what foods actually drag you down, and don't sweat the rest. Gluten grains upset my stomach, but butter doesn't hurt me as far as I can tell.
As far as I'm concerned salads aren't really food. It's hard to get enough calories from them without resorting to oils, which aren't really that paleo. They are maybe medicine, maybe dessert...I've had some enjoyable ones, but relying on them as meals has led to many an episode of hungry angry irritability.
Try counting your calories. If you are eating salads, chicken breast, lean reindeer jerky, salmon filets, or Planter's mixed nuts...no wonder you feel sick! These foods are fine in moderation, but they aren't truly nourishing from a caloric perspective without some fat or carbs or both. Eat some freaking pork belly....a lot of pork belly maybe in some mashed tubers...and some fatty lamb cooked coconut milk...and some short ribs cooked in tallow...and a bunch of shrimp cocktails. Eat that stuff until you aren't hungry and then tell me whether the paleo diet works for you.
I don't think lean meats or greens are BAD, there just aren't meals in themselves. Don't eat greens unless they have bacon on them is a rule I personally follow :)
PS: Someone pointed out that nuts probably don't belong on that second tier in terms of logical foraging because most are really more trouble to open than they are worth. Mongongo nuts are an exception. Most others like butternut are impossible to open and have almost no flesh to reward you with, or are easy to open but hard to detoxify like acorns.